Rhio's got the eating part down pat!
It always rains at the Maplewood West ride, and this year was no exception! This is one of my favorite parks to ride in Minnesota, but it's about a 5 hour trip from home, so I only get there once a year for the endurance ride. Rhio and I were going with Jodi & Rhonda again, and we loaded up on a foggy, soggy, chilly Duluth morning, having checked the weather twice and packed lots of extra dry clothes! The trip was uneventful and we pulled into our reserved camping spot at the tip of the tear drop loop - our friends DeAnne, Jutta, & Donna from North Dakota were already parked across the way and Deb was going to join us on our site - cozy but good for socializing!
I didn't get to ride this ride last year, as I was vetting all weekend. This year, the ride manager found a new vet who was interested in giving it a whirl, so I was able to share the vetting duties with another vet/rider and we each got to ride one day & work one day - what a great arrangement! All three of us worked getting horses vetted in Friday night, and Donna was gracious enough to bring Rhio up to be vetted in for me.
Saturday morning dawned cloudy & humid, but not yet raining. Rhio and I were doing the 50 miler, riding with our buddies Tracy & Diego. Start time was 7 am, and our first loop was to be 25 miles. This is a new trail layout for this ride, and gave us a 3-loop 50 (25 miles, 13 miles, and 12 miles) instead of a typical 4-loop 50. I thought the trails were great - well marked and easy to follow. Although we covered a lot of the same ground throughout the day, it was pieced together differently on each loop and sometimes we went the opposite direction over a section of trail that we'd been on earlier. We never got bored!
Tracy & Diego leading the way down one of the least steep of the grassy hills
I'd decided to start the ride completely barefoot and see how the footing was before deciding whether or not to boot for the second half of the ride. There are some really grassy hills we traverse, and I know from experience that wet grass, either from dew or rain, is very, very slippery in boots - so I wanted to avoid the dewy grass (there wouldn't be much I could do about avoiding rain-wet grass, but I'd cross that bridge when I came to it!).
We started well after the rest of the pack, making sure they were out of sight before ambling towards the trail head. We left camp at a walk but not for long - Rhio took the lead and set a nice 10 mph pace. We cruised along on a completely loose rein, definitely a first for us, and negotiated the footing with no issues.
Photo courtesy of Bob (I don't know his last name)
Coming into the boat landing water stop
About the time we hit the boat landing on the first loop, the rain started and I was glad I'd tied my rain jacket on the back of the saddle. Rhio preferred to drink from the numerous mud puddles on trail, and didn't care too much for the boat landing as a watering hole. He was content to stand in the water and cool his legs a bit, though, so I couldn't complain. Diego amused himself by vigorous pawing and playing in the water. One of the other rider's husbands was at the boat landing with buckets of water available for those horses that didn't like the lake - how nice! He was there all three times we came through the boat landing.
Photo courtesy of Bob
photo courtesy of Bob
Diego's water antics
We completed the first loop in about 3 hours, which was a nice pace. We had to walk past our trailer & camp to get to the timer & vet area, which Rhio didn't think was the best plan, but we were able to come back to relax for our hour hold. Luckily the rain stopped for the entire length of our hold - which made getting him fed and actually taking care of myself much more pleasant. I debated about putting on a dry shirt, but decided against it because the shirt I was wearing was a synthetic "performance" fabric and all my other shirts were cotton. I was also hoping the rain was actually done, but that didn't turn out to be the case!
Rhio relaxing at our hour hold
We left for the second loop and discovered that the rain and the horses ahead of us had turned certain sections of the trail into mud slip-n-slides. We let the boys pick their pace, and they automatically slowed to a walk where they needed to, then picked the trot back up as they could. Many of the grassy areas are so tall that the horses barely need to lower their heads to grab a bite - so both horses made the most of every opportunity and grabbed snacks on the fly. We picked our way carefully through some muddy sections, were able to move out nicely on the gravel access roads, and were happy that the horses continued to drink at almost every available puddle or pond. We did have some distractions on this loop, as the fishing public was out en force on this rainy Saturday and Rhio was fascinated with all the boats - standing staring at them instead of drinking at several water stops. My Dad always says the fishing is good when it rains, and that was apparently the case! We also ran into several individual and pairs of hikers.
Rhio enjoying the smorgsaboard of delicious greens
The horses paced very well together, and changed roles leading and following pretty regularly, and I think maybe of their own choosing! I don't actually remember deciding who was going to lead most of the time - we just travelled in whatever order our horses chose. Diego seemed to enjoy rubbing his head on Rhio's tail, and even wore Rhio's tail as a decorative boa once, and Rhio, my boy who doesn't like anyone close to his rump, was completely at ease with it all.
The trails are a mixture of packed dirt or sandy improved trails through the hardwood forest, with some rocks scattered in but not "rocky," gravel access roads and gravely areas of improved trail, and grassy open prairie areas. This area of Minnesota is filled with small depressions (lakes, ponds, potholes) that hold water and rolling hills around them, left over from the glacial period. I think there's a specific geologic term for this landscape, but I don't know what it is (despite living for 4 years with a geology major for a roommate in college!). It looked to me like they are doing some prairie maintenance in the park, as we rode through at least one area that had clearly been burned this spring.
One of the many pretty flowers in bloom
I didn't take very many pictures because it was so rainy, but this gives a sense of the landscape.
The rain continued through the entire second loop, and slowed us down considerably as we negotiated the slippery areas very carefully. It was very quiet during the rain - no bird song, no wildlife sightings, no wind in the trees - and the pattering of the rain in the leaves was almost too relaxing, as I started thinking about napping!
By the time we returned to camp for our second hold of 40 minutes, the rain had quit and the sun came out, heating things up quickly. I'd had my sponge on my saddle all day, but the natural sponging effect of the steady rain meant I hadn't even unclipped it until our third stop of the day at the boat landing. Diego was "sponging" himself in the lake, so Rhio & I availed ourselves of the buckets for a good drink and some sponging.
Close to the finish we had a deer come barreling down the trail on course for a head-on collision, but it executed a beautiful sliding stop, spun off into the woods, and was gone. Rhio was leading at that point, and never even wavered in his stride. We crossed the finish line with 8 hours of ride time, which I was pleased with. We never pushed the horses all day, took it carefully through the slippery & mucky sections, and both finished with happy horses.
Rhio looked great at the end, and I spent some timing sponging him down to get the mud & sweat off at the end before presenting for our completion exam. We'd done the whole 50 miles barefoot! He had a little bit of soreness in his shoulders - I assume from the combination of hills and slippery footing - but his back was great and his feet looked great, too.
I settled him in to the trailer with his beet pulp mash and wrapped his legs with a new wrap I've just gotten called "Cold Flex." It's a bandage meant to cool the lower extremities via evaporation, and seemed to work nicely. I still got a little stocking up overnight (he wore the bandages for about 3 hours after the ride then was bare-legged overnight), which is pretty normal for him, especially as he lays down to sleep much of the night. His right front leg, the leg with the hoof injury from the winter, stocks up the most and I have to wonder if it's related to the different weight bearing in that foot currently. He doesn't show any heat or soreness in the leg, so for now I am just watching that leg after all our rides, training and competition.
Rhio with his mash and his Cold Flex wraps
We had a fabulous spread at potluck, and nearly finished awards before the down pour started. I walked Rhio in the rain, letting him graze a lot, and finished up the nightly chores drenched to the skin. Boy did my dry clothes & dry bed feel fantastic when I finally crawled into them! The rain stopped just at sunset, and although a thunderstorm rolled through nearby, we got only the sound-and-light show without any more precipitation.
A very dramatic sunset
Sunday morning Rhio was looking chipper, trotting a few circles around me as I walked him before starting the morning vetting-in of newly arrived horses and horses which had competed on Saturday (we require them to vet in the morning of their 2nd ride instead of the night before). Vetting went smoothly, and I even had a chance to go shopping at Teddy's Running Bear mobile tack trailer; she stopped here for the weekend on her way to the Ft. Howes ride in Montana next weekend. I think I feel about racks of rainbow-colored biothane tack what other women feel about shoes! Drool, drool! I restrained myself, coming home with only a new pair of SSG riding gloves and a human electrolyte to try for myself.
The weather was beautiful all day Sunday, and we had all riders in and accounted for by 2:30 pm, just in time to head home to arrive before dark. We topped off the weekend with the traditional Dairy Queen stop, and got home around 7 pm. I got my wet stuff unpacked & hung to dry, jumped in the shower, and watched Rhio enjoying his freedom in the pasture for the evening before falling into bed, tired and happy!
I am very proud of my little Rhio, now with two 50 mile completions (and two ribbons - tied with Tracy for 5th heavyweight this ride!) and to feel that he was entirely capable of what I was asking him to do was really wonderful.
To see lots of ride photos taken by a rider's husband (Bob but I don't know his last name!), see this link: http://picasaweb.google.com/kaleidobob/MaplewoodWest2010#